Steven Spielberg is one of the few movie directors who’s a household name. Just hearing “Spielberg” will conjure up images of friendly aliens, roaming dinosaurs, and blockbuster adventures.
Indeed, without the genius and mastery of Spielberg, the modern concept of a “blockbuster” may not even exist. He gave us several of the highest-grossing films of all time, and spawned several popular media franchises.
To honor one of the most influential filmmakers of all time, we’re going to revisit his best films and rank them, with a strong focus on how enduring they are and how well they stand out as movies.
Here are the best Steven Spielberg movies of all time. If there are any that you haven’t seen yet, do yourself a favor and watch them!
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Based on a short story by Brian Aldiss, A.I. Artificial Intelligence follows a young android named David (played by Haley Joel Osment) who’s programming with the ability to feel love.
However, his identity as an A.I. makes him an outsider and leads him on a life-changing journey to find his purpose.
Originally, Stanley Kubrick was assigned to direct this sci-fi film—but due to his death, Steven Spielberg decided to honor Kubrick and finish what he started. And despite the final movie’s flaws, it’s an amazing futuristic take on Pinocchio that fuses Kubrick and Spielberg’s styles.
Despite his oft-fantastical vision, Steven Spielberg always stays down-to-Earth when it comes to real-life stories. He did that with Munich, Lincoln, and Bridge of Spies. But his best biographical movie? Catch Me If You Can, a caper film about conman Frank Abagnale.
Leonardo DiCaprio works wonders as Abagnale, who’s shown to be desperate to honor his father Frank Sr. (played by Christopher Walken).
His cat-and-mouse chase with FBI agent Carl Hanratty (played by Tom Hanks) is the reason to watch this. That and the elaborate details of Frank’s crimes will keep you entertained.
Need I say that this is the best Indiana Jones sequel? Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade follows Indy (played by Harrison Ford) on a rescue mission to save his father Henry Sr. (played by Sean Connery) from Nazis who are on the search for the Holy Grail.
If Temple of Doom rubs you the wrong way, then Last Crusade is a good palate cleanser. At its heart is the chemistry between Ford and Connery, who work together with witty banter and shared thirsts for adventure. Action-packed and fun, Last Crusade is a true winner.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind is Steven Spielberg’s first feature-length sci-fi movie. He had longingly cherished the idea of a story about UFOs after he and his father watched a meteor shower.
The movie centers on two humans who are lured by visions to eventually encounter extraterrestrials. This project contains most of Spielberg’s usual movie tropes: broken families, alien sightings, iconic shots, and lens flares.
And it’s the closest Spielberg ever came to copying Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey with its deep themes, amazing shots, thought-provoking vibe, and elaborate use of sound.
One of the best war films ever made, Saving Private Ryan follows a small unit of American soldiers during WWII who are assigned to rescue a young paratrooper and bring him back home.
Along the way, the unit meets several obstacles and must defend themselves against Nazi soldiers, which all comes to a head and causes the soldiers to have doubts.
The most notable thing about Saving Private Ryan is the opening D-Day landing scene. The realistic and graphic depiction of war violence remains shocking to this day.
There seems to be a pattern with Steven Spielberg and his sci-fi blockbusters: they tend to be cautionary tales of humanity’s manipulation of science. And Jurassic Park is no exception.
Based on the Michael Crichton novel, this franchise starter follows a group of scientists and benefactors as they’re brought to an island full of resurrected dinosaurs—and everything goes wrong.
To this day, Jurassic Park remains a technical achievement for its use of CGI and animatronics. The dinosaurs in this movie look as real today as they did when the movie came out 1993, beating out a lot of modern-day cinema special effects.
This is the film that pioneered and defined the “summer blockbuster.” Jaws is a straightforward story about a great white shark that terrorizes a resort town. Its concept and its iconic movie poster drew people to the theaters, and it’s still talked about today.
Released in 1974, Jaws lacked the special effects technology to support its mechanical sharks, which were prone to malfunctions.
As a result, Spielberg relied on several clever yet minimalist filmmaking techniques to create suspense. The end result is a beloved thrill ride that instilled the fear of sharks into millions.
Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark solidified Steven Spielberg as the director who can create escapist blockbusters suitable for any audience.
This movie introduced the world to the swashbuckling, fedora-wearing, whip-wielding archaeologist Indiana Jones—and his debut placed him on a journey to find the Ark of the Covenant.
There’s simply no understating how great this film is. Just watch the iconic opening scene where Indy replaces the idol with a bag of sand, the rolling boulder, and the “Why did it have to be snakes?” line. Raiders is a true cinematic staple of fun.
Schindler’s List is Steven Spielberg’s most important film—and it also happens to be the one that has none of his signature tropes.
At its core, Schindler’s List is a horror story about one of the darkest chapters in human history: the Holocaust. Spielberg pulls no punches when it comes to showing the harshest of realities.
The film chronicles the exploits of German businessman Oskar Schindler and how he saved hundreds of Polish-Jewish refugees from certain death. It’s Spielberg at his most urgent and most masterful. You’ll surely be left moved.
We come full circle to Steven Spielberg’s best film of all time, where all of his most well-known clichés are on full display. It’s the movie that made Spielberg into the director he is today.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is the story of a curious boy, a stranded alien, and their friendship. When the alien attracts the attention of authorities, they work together to find a way to send him back home.
This is a must-see film if you want to see quintessential Spielbergian filmmaking. It blends science fiction and fantasy into a heartwarming coming-of-age tale, with one of the most iconic scenes in cinema history where E.T. flies over the moon.